Hundreds of homes burned and tens of thousands of people were evacuated after a rare wind-driven wildfire tore through suburban neighborhoods in Colorado on Thursday, authorities said.
Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in the area, calling the blaze — which ballooned to 1,600 acres in a few hours amid 100-mph winds — “absolutely devastating.” After toppled power lines started the grass fire around 11 a.m. south of Boulder, the flames quickly spread through the towns of Louisville and Superior, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during a news conference.
“This was consuming football field lengths of land in seconds,” Pelle said. “This was a horrific event.” No deaths or missing persons had been reported, though he said he wouldn’t be “surprised if we find casualties.” One police officer was injured by flying debris, he said. By 5 p.m., the fire had incinerated an entire subdivision of 370 homes in Superior and likely destroyed another 210 homes in the community’s old town neighborhood, he said. A hotel burned, a shopping center was in flames and the blaze was blocks from a hospital.
The conditions prompted the evacuations of tens of thousands of people from Louisville and Superior, Pelle said. They also caused road closures and hundreds of power outages, and the winds toppled multiple “high profile vehicles,” the Colorado State Patrol said in a tweet.
How and why did the fires spread?
The fires began on Thursday morning and spread with astonishing speed across suburban neighborhoods in Boulder County. The authorities said at least 1,600 acres had burned by Thursday evening.
The specific cause was not clear as of early Friday morning. Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County said on Thursday that he believed the fires had been started by downed power lines. The wildfires came unusually late in the year for Colorado, where severe drought conditions in recent months have set the stage for such blazes to spread with ease. And they capped a year of intense wildfires and other extreme weather events across the American West.
A state of emergency was declared
The fires on Thursday burned at least 500 homes, a shopping complex and a hotel, the authorities said. No deaths or major injuries had been reported as of early Friday. But some residents lost power, and others likened the damage to that of a 2013 wildfire that, at the time, was the most destructive in Colarado’s history.
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday declared a state of emergency, a decision that allows the state to tap emergency funds and to deploy the Colorado National Guard and other resources. He called the fires a “force of nature.”
The Boulder County authorities also issued evacuation orders for Superior, Louisville and for some residents in Broomfield and Westminster, a city with about 116,000 people. All of those communities lie between Boulder and Denver, the capital.
The authorities in Broomfield lifted an evacuation order late Thursday, just as high wind warnings in the Boulder area were all canceled. Boulder County’s Office of Emergency Management said there was no danger to other counties.